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RUNAWAY TRAIN

America’s election and its inability to alter the nation’s deadly course

 

John Chuckman

 

America is engaged in another of its sprawling and costly national election campaigns. A few of the events, such as the New Hampshire primary or the Iowa Caucus, I’m sure have participants seeing themselves as Thomas Jefferson’s sturdy yeomen doing their civic duty. But such humble and misty-eyed tableaux can be deceiving for the big picture is quite disturbing, including, as it does, billions of dollars spent and a lot of noise generated about things which will not change in any outcome.

America is, despite all the noise and expense of its election campaigns, not a democracy, and, as the world’s greatest imperial power, it is not a place which genuinely honors human rights, either at home or abroad although its politicians never stop talking about them. It is a country controlled by wealth whose purpose is the acquisition of still more wealth, equipped with a military that in scores of wars and interventions has fought, arguably, precisely once for the country’s defense.

It marked a fateful time in the modern era when America, under Harry Truman, decided to partner with the emerging state of Israel, a very fateful time indeed. Today much of the Middle East is in ruins, whole states and societies have been destroyed, at least a million have died, and some of the world’s great archeological and historical treasures have been destroyed as though by a gang of gleeful wanton young men.

Accompanying America’s long march of destruction through the Middle East – the work both of its own armed forces and of various proxies – has been the rise of a phenomenon called international terrorism. Our newspapers and broadcasters all focus on this last, leaving the preceding great acts of destruction unquestioned. After all, America’s much-consolidated press is an industry like any other and is owned by a relatively small number of wealthy people, and it depends upon good relations with other great industries for its revenue and with the government for its operating environment. It never questions policies, no matter how brutal, and it never scrutinizes what those policies are doing to people. America’s major allies all carry on in exactly the same fashion for they have become highly dependent on America’s goodwill.

Day after day, our press gives horrifying accounts of events such as the bombing in Brussels or the attacks in Paris, and it has been doing so since 9/11, providing a relentless war chant of “See what these bastards do!” These horrors are always treated as though they had no context, having sprung full-blown from the minds of bizarre people who think nothing, for example, of blowing themselves up. But I’m pretty sure that virtually every person who does such things sees himself or herself in the same light as the Japanese Kamikazes everyone once fearfully admired.

When was the last time your newspaper or broadcaster featured life in Gaza or in Syria or in Iraq or in Libya or in Yemen? It simply does not happen, and except for the rare independent article or book, our information about these places and the terrible assaults they are under is deliberately constrained. I am convinced that the natural human sympathy of most people, including many residents of imperial America, would respond to such sights and reports, but you are simply not given the opportunity to do so.

For me, this subject is the pivotal matter in the upcoming American election. Donald Trump, despite many unpleasant views and much careless rhetoric, seemed to have a spark of something new, an independent mind not shaped by America’s political establishment, and he an extremely successful and self-confident man in business not beholden to the special interests which shape the insincere news and own the loyalty of a great many politicians. He has made a number of encouraging statements, saying America should get along with Russia and China, leave Syria for Russia to clean-up, and talked about making deals instead of conflicts, but, most remarkably, he said that Israel should pay for its own defense. That last, something most timorous American politicians wouldn’t dream of uttering, is an example of bravery under the threat of fire, a quality I admire and one sorely needed to ever have a hope of having America extricated from the its Middle East’s Gordian Knot.

But two things just recently have given me pause: Trump’s words about using torture and the recent appointment to his foreign relations team of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Torture is unacceptable, ever. Legally innocent people are kidnapped and hurt in the mere hope they know something of interest, and in the process many die, convicted of nothing. The CIA has killed a number of prisoners in its Rendition Gulag since 9/11, whether accidentally or deliberately almost doesn’t matter, but their filthy work violates every principle we hold dear.

Calls for more torture are not new thinking, and they are repulsive. They ignore the actual cause of terror, which is America’s treatment of countless people in societies swept aside and rudely rearranged as though their homes and places were toy living room furniture being tossed by an angry child giant. As for Senator Sessions, there is a man who gets along just fine with the bloodiest people in Washington doing the rearranging.

Perhaps I should not have allowed a glimmer of hope that at least in one part of America’s domain a few things might change for the better. After all, seven years ago, I had hopes for a young black man with a charming smile and a tendency to talk and act with more independence than we usually see in Washington, not afraid sometimes to wear sandals and do without the primordial totem of an American flag pin always fixed to his lapel, but look what happened to him. He joined the great game and became nothing less than a mass murderer. Oh, he had one or two modest successes, as in stopping Israel’s raging demands to attack Iran, a country which has attacked no one in its entire modern history, but otherwise his is a long and dreary tale.

He has America still killing in Iraq, still killing in Afghanistan, destroying a decent civilization in Libya, supporting destruction in beautiful Syria, re-inserting an absolute dictator into Egypt to keep its prickly neighbor Israel happy, and creating an armada of drones to assassinate people in far off places guilty of no crime, killing in the process many others besides the innocent targets. Oh, and there are many other Neanderthal stupidities, from creating a coup and ensuing civil war in Ukraine to demanding Europe join in destructive economic sanctions and a huge military build-ups tight on Russia’s borders. And then there are all the efforts to intimidate China in its own sphere of influence.

You see, these are all the brutal stupidities of America’s establishment which our press would have you ignore while it goes on and on with its war chant about mindless international terror, virtually all of which is simply a pathetic human response to the stupidities, a response likely as unavoidable as having accidents if you go around driving drunk.

I say unavoidable, but that is not absolutely true. If a society goes far enough into the suppression of rights, terrorism can be almost eliminated. Stalin’s Russia did not experience much in the way of terrorism. Neither does Netanyahu’s Israel. And there is no doubt that America’s huge effort to suppress traditional rights and freedoms since 9/11 reflects that understanding, and the effort at suppression is not over. New surprises await Americans and their allies without question. It is an interesting sidelight to this ongoing process of building a super-security state that it just happens also to leave the ruling establishment increasingly unchallenged and unchallengeable. It is, indeed, a very dark path America has taken.

Is it any wonder I would grab at straws to see some change, even a modest re-think about what is being done? But I do fear that’s just what it is, grabbing at straws. The only realistic alternative is Hillary Clinton, a proven killer and serial liar and someone who much resembles Tony Blair for repulsive insincerity and selling herself to wealthy interests.

Indeed just at this writing, Radovan Karadzic has been convicted of war crimes during the Serbian war. I think it would be impossible to convincingly distinguish a great deal of what he did to Muslims in Bosnia and what Hillary Clinton did in Libya, which included running a program to gather small armies of thugs and arm them for insertion into Syria where they helped kill more than a quarter of a million people and create devastation. Her satanic laughter over her own bizarre joke about the leader of Libya, “We came, we saw, he died,” speaks volumes about her. This was a leader who had for decades given his people enlightened state policies and who ended being murdered in an American-created chaos.

It has been interesting to see the reactions to organized opposition against Trump, opposition taking a form sadly resembling 1930’s German Brownshirts shoving, threatening, and shouting at political rallies. Trump’s base, which is not only part of the Right but includes people who decades ago would have been Democrat-voting union people before their jobs disappeared, has very confusingly attributed all the organized opposition to “liberals.” Well, George Soros and Hillary Clinton are not, by any stretch of the imagination, liberals. Soros is in the CIA’s pocket, as Russia well knew when it recently banned his NGOs from operating there, and Hillary is just a plain killer.  I’m pretty sure America has no liberals anymore, at least as an organized body. George Soros and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry are perhaps best described as neocon “fellow travellers.”

Now, in case you don’t know who the neocons are, they are a group of influential people in the Washington establishment and in Right-wing publishing who forcefully advocate that America use its full might to re-order the planet to its liking. Many of the best known of them are Jewish Americans who never have Israel far from their concerns. There was a natural meshing of interests in supposedly re-making and stabilizing the Middle East with support for Israel. All the countries flattened or decimated in recent years effectively represent a collective effort to make the Middle East safe for Israel, to surround it with a vast cordon sanitaire, eliminating virtually all independent-minded leaders in an almost continent-sized region, and assuring Israel’s hegemony as a kind of regional miniature replica of what the United States has become in the world.

The chief problem here has been the murder of huge numbers of people and the perfectly natural reactions of many to revenge what has happened to their families, friends, and lands. If that is to be called terror, so be it, but in other times we have called the same reaction everything from the resistance or national liberation to war by other means or simple vengeance. The most important thing to understand about it is that it is not some unnatural eruption of insane extremists as our press constantly makes every effort to impress upon us.

The only way to control terror is to stop your part in it. The biggest part of all modern terror is the work of the United States, unless you regard a family blown up in Damascus or Tripoli or Fallujah or Gaza City or Sana’a as being somehow different in kind to the victims in Brussels or Paris. America also pressures all its traditional allies to support the work with efforts of one kind or another, anything from arms to training, always maintaining the stance that it opposes terror and insisting they do the same. Well, it does oppose terror, but only the wrong kind of terror, the terror which does not support or advance America’s efforts. America’s destruction and mass killing in recent years are the great bulk of what any reasonable person, one not dedicated to the silly idea that America is a benign force, would call terror. Events in Brussels or Paris or even New York have been only the results of what America and its allies have been doing, the “blowback” as they quaintly put it in intelligence circles.

Well, it has been my faint hope that Trump might represent at least some progress in this horrible business, but I am growing to doubt that possibility. I do think for many reasons things are rather out of control, hence my reference to a runaway train. The American establishment of wealth along with its Praetorian Guard of military and security services is firmly in control and the ability of any elected individual to redirect things seems remote, as does the initial likelihood of such a person even being elected to office.

In my heart of hearts I do still believe that Obama was the kind of man who wanted things otherwise, but the realities of those meetings at huge conference tables surrounded by square-jawed generals in uniforms stiff and glittering with brass and medals and the sneering, elusive country-club types of the security services, impenetrably self-confident in all their secret operations and resources, many of which will never even be known to a president, made him what he has become. That and the pressing demands of hugely wealthy individuals and corporations, powerful lobby groups, and the virtually daily calls from people like Netanyahu (we do know that “daily calls” is no exaggeration from a slip of Obama’s tongue several years back) have given us this failed man who may well have had good intentions at the start.

The cause of so much of the war and terror in the world, the artificial re-creation of Israel and its endless demands for the re-ordering of its region, will likely just have to run its course. It is a state which, rather surprisingly, shares a great many features with the former Soviet Union. It is monstrously over-militarized, occupied by vast and invasive security services, with no guarantees of any rights, holding millions down who don’t want to be held, and boasts an inefficient economy only kept afloat by huge subsidies from outside. I do think, just like the Soviet Union, it eventually will collapse on its own weak foundations.

As for the United States, I have long believed that the era of its unquestioned authority in the world, which it has always greatly abused, is drawing to a close. The world is not only becoming multi-polar, the United States simply cannot govern itself in many of its activities, almost like a great spoiled child who cannot stop gobbling ice cream cones. It is always pushing to excesses. Its finances are in appalling shape and it can only be a matter of time before huge corrections occur with all the terrible consequences they entail for many. It is spending unconscionable amounts it doesn’t even have on its military and security, and the exaggerated, paranoid perceptions of need motivating these expenditures reflect all that we’ve discussed above. But perhaps most important of all, it has no effective leadership, and its absolutely corrupt political system is unable to provide any, allowing the inside ruling coterie to just keep stumbling along towards we don’t know quite what.

 

 

 

 

 

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TORTURE AND WHITE PHOSPHORUS

“The captured terrorists of the 21st century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice, which were designed for different needs. We have to adapt.”

Condoleezza Rice

John Chuckman

I’ve previously charged Condoleezza Rice with having an appalling ignorance of history. I don’t mean the kind of knowledge – dates of battles, names and terms of treaties, etc. – that earns a good grade on an exam. We know Condoleezza got good grades in school. No, I mean a deeper understanding of the economic, social, and moral forces of history and of the irrepressible role of truth despite the countless attempts to silence it.

Guerilla warfare, terrorism, and fanatical causes are not new to the 21st century, they are as old as human society, and governments have had many ways of dealing with them. This goes so far as governments changing around those regarded as terrorists and heroes, according to the needs of the time, much the way victors in a war define who were the good guys and bad guys.

One thing history surely does tell us is that nothing is more dangerous than Condeleezza’s tendency to speak in sweeping, virtually meaningless generalizations about the people she regards as foes. Every war of aggression, every wave of state terror, every deadly fanatical cause has used just such terms. People are described with de-humanized slogans, making them easy to hate and abuse. We should all go on a personal terror alert when powerful figures talk this way.

The assertion of a special case or status in the current situation is utterly dishonest. It is more than dishonest: it is a deliberately constructed logical fallacy calculated to elicit the idea of special measures from listeners. It is America’s special measures that Condoleezza went to Europe to defend.

The special measures of concern are secret prison camps and torture. Condoleezza’s basic approach at the start of her trip was to assert that the United States doesn’t do anything nasty or underhanded while at the same time just telling everyone to mind their own business. That didn’t get her very far, and she had to adjust her words in the face of incredulity, frustration, and anger.

Then Condoleezza demonstrated a remarkable ability to turn around American policy or at least to seem to be doing so. In one day, she went from firmly stating that Americans abroad were exempt from certain international commitments of the United States in treating prisoners to saying they were bound. European leaders were publicly contented with what seemed a concession, but the truth is they were just not prepared to stand up to threats Condoleezza whispered in their ears.

“The United States has not transported anyone and will not transport anyone to a country where we believe he will be tortured. Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.” Condoleezza Rice

I wonder then what could have been happening then when a German citizen was kidnapped in Macedonia about two years ago, drugged, flown to Afghanistan, kept for five months, tortured, and finally left abandoned in some bleak place in Bosnia when his American Gestapo captors apparently learned they had made a mistake?

I wonder what was going on when a Canadian citizen whose plane made a stopover in the U.S. was removed, imprisoned, and denied his rights? He happened to be a dual citizen with the country of his birth, Syria, so instead of sending him where his wife, children, and home were in Canada and where he repeatedly asked to be returned, he was deported to Syria for a year of (totally predictable) brutal imprisonment and torture.

There are many such cases known, and they must be regarded as more than administrative glitches. What are all those mysterious places in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Romania, Poland, and as far away as Diego Garcia, now run by American crew-cut thugs and to which there is no access? What are all the many hundreds of flights recorded by dedicated amateur plane spotters and checked back to registration? Are we to believe the US is not running a huge, illegal secret prison and torture system?

How could such an enterprise possibly conform to international agreements and treaties? Are there really thousands of people looking for free trips in shackles to nowhere courtesy of the CIA? Thousands ready to give up all rights and years of their lives voluntarily to satisfy the urges of American paranoia? Of course not, to ask the question is to know the answer.

I don’t want to quibble about the meaning of torture. The CIA term “enhanced interrogation technique” is straight out of the horrors described in Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. If, as one wag put it, it isn’t torture, then why not use it on Cheney in getting to root of current scandals in Washington? Of course, it’s torture.

So simple a thing as deprivation of sleep can reduce a healthy human being to delusions in a short time. One of Israel’s favorite tortures has been to keep captives’ heads in a large hood, shaking them vigorously while their heads bob and bounce around inside the hood, making them dizzy and anxious, perhaps feeling their necks might be snapped. Sounds like no big deal compared to pulling out finger nails? Try it on your kids for a week or two. The CIA is known to use “waterboarding,” submerging a victim strapped to a board in just enough water to cause him to gulp, gurgle and gasp, panicking him into thinking he is being drown, over and over.

Nothing, I repeat nothing, the United States thinks it is protecting itself from is worth this descent into moral hell.

“The United States will use every lawful weapon to defeat terrorists” Condoleezza Rice

That statement is a platitude, useful only to stir blood at a Fourth of July speech in Muncie, Indiana. It tells us nothing. It is inherently evasive because the lawfulness of tactics being used is the very issue in question.

We all recall with a frown or a grimace Bill Clinton’s playing with truth when he testified, “It depends on what you mean by the word is”? Although his statement concerned a relatively trivial matter, it is actually representative of something far greater and more sinister that has grown to become an integral part of American political culture. American politicians and their creatures like Condoleezza simply have become expert in the art of giving an interview or a speech and avoiding saying almost anything meaningful. Artful lying, subtle avoidance, and giving an answer different than the question asked have become a basic set of political job skills.

Members of the American government, more and more, resemble those sleazy well-prepared witnesses on the stand who just can’t recall point after point or a cheap lawyers who rephrases a statement to a similar-sounding one and assure you, yes you have his word on that.

The string of lies and misrepresentations leading up to the invasion of Iraq alone are enough, in the words of Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution, “to make the Testament leap from her [the witness’s] hand.”

Only recently, after a year of denials about using napalm at Fallujah, despite the words of witnesses and the charred bodies of victims, we learn that white phosphorus was used. Indeed, Marines are trained to use white phosphorus to drive people out to places where they can shoot them, only the people are supposed to be soldiers, not civilians. Now, I am not sure people whose flesh is roasted to bubbling globs care whether the Marines used napalm or white phosphorus doing it.

But on such fine distinctions and guarded answers stands the word of the United States today. “No, Sir, I don’t understand how those good folks got roasted, but I can assure you we did not use napalm.” So when Condoleezza asserts, as she did a while back on a trip to Canada, that “the word of the United States is as good as gold,” you just have to smile bitterly.